‘Pru & Dan’ bring ’60s to Sheldon stage
Put your ugly Christmas sweater back in the closet. Ignore that glitter top and sparkly earrings. It’s time to drag out old bell-bottom trousers, paisley shirt and love beads so you can “Tiptoe Through the ‘60s.”
Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard are presenting a New Year’s Eve extravaganza at the Sheldon Theatre celebrating the unforgettable sights and sounds of the 1960s.
The show, subtitled “Stories and Songs from a Revolutionary Decade,” brings it all back — or introduces a new generation to the music and mania of those turbulent years.
Pictures are used to help tell the story. More than 300 images assembled by tech director Alan Frechtman are projected on two large screens that are built to look like television consoles — complete with knobs and rabbit ears.
It was a powerful decade, Johnson noted. Remember?
•Ray Charles won his first Grammy and Motown Records got its start in Detroit in 1960.
•Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech and Peter, Paul and Mary sang “If I Had a Hammer” in 1963.
•The Beatles made their American debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the first Ford Mustang rolled out in 1964.
The decade also brought the Civil Rights Act, anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, a “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special, GI Joe dolls and much, much more.
Music was equally diverse, according to the duo. Songs of the ’60s ran the gamut from comedy (“Hello Muddah”) to tragedy (“Abraham, Martin & John”) to the women’s movement (“You Don’t Own Me”) and the “American Bandstand” era of dance (“A Hard Day’s Night”). Many of the songs connect with and advance the narrative on key topics of the decade.
Television was a big part of people’s lives. In addition to 30 or so songs, Johnson said, “We have a lot of fun with TV themes.”
Personal memories and what she described as “a fairly Minnesota-centric narrative” all touch on the major themes and events of the era. Johnson and Chouinard invite people coming to the show to submit their personal 1960s stories to tiptoethroughthe60s.com in advance for possible inclusion in the script.
The crowd also gets to be part of the performance by singing along. “That part has really been a plus for the audience,” Johnson said. People who experienced the era first-hand know their lyrics and do not hesitate to join in the singing.
The music of the ’60s was “both immensely popular and potent,” according to the duo’s description of the show. “It was easy to remember and esay to sing, and it lived just as comfortably in the streets and marches as it did on commercial pop radio.”
“Tiptoe Through the ’60s,” which takes its title from a Tiny Tim hit song, was originally presented by the Minnesota Historical Society in tandem with its “1968” exhibit. Johnson and Chouinard had previously worked with the state historical society to create “Golden Age of Radio” in conjunction with another exhibit.
“We like these projects” that combine research, history and writing with the music, Johnson said.
“The educational component makes it interesting,” although from the audience’s perspective, “It’s just fun.”
As they “wind down” the 1960s show, Johnson and Chouinard plan to begin work on a new history-plus-music theme: Minnesota in the 1920s. It’ll cover the era of Prohibition and bootlegging, leading up to the Great Depression. They also may re-release their Gershwin collaboration with some new tracks.
Johnson is a singer and ukelele player with ties to “A Prairie Home Companion.” She has recorded the music of George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael and Greg Brown.
A pianist, accordion player and storyteller, Chouinard also has worked for years with Garrison Keillor, along with Ann Reed and Kevin Kling, plus he travels and records.
They have toured from Europe and Scandinavia to Russia, Israel and Canada. Both appear regularly at Crossings at Carnegie in Zumbrota and have played at the Sheldon.
“I’m very much looking forward to going back to the Sheldon,” Johnson said. “It’s one of the most beautiful theaters in the Upper Midwest. …
“Under the right circumstances” — like getting to spend the evening at the Sheldon and the night in Red Wing, she said — “I don’t mind working New Year’s Eve.”